Wallace and Grace Take the Case by Heather Alexander, illustrated by Laura Zarrin

Published by Bloomsbury

Summary:  Wallace and Grace are two owl friends and partners in the Night Owl Detective Agency.  Wallace is a careful rule-follower, and Grace is an enthusiastic go-getter, but each one appreciates the qualities of the other.  In this first installment, the two friends are hired by Edgar the rabbit to investigate a ghost-sighting in the kale patch.  Carefully gathering and clues and using a bit of logical reasoning, they are able to work together to uncover what’s going on.  Readers can look forward to a couple of sequels, as well as some similar series in Bloomsbury’s Read & Bloom imprint for newly independent readers.  80 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  A perfect first chapter book, with plenty of colorful illustrations and gentle humor.

Cons:  Wallace comes across as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud.

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  12-year-old Matthew almost never leaves the house due to his incapacitating OCD.  Petrified of germs, he spends most of the day in his room, watching his neighbors and taking notes on their comings and goings.  So when a little boy disappears from his grandfather’s front yard, it turns out Matthew was the last person to see him.  He decides he is going to solve the mystery.  Reluctantly at first, he enlists the help of Jake and Melody, two kids from his grade who live in the neighborhood.  As the story unfolds, the reader gradually learns of Matthew’s guilt over his own baby brother’s death, and how this has led him to choose his sterile, lonely existence.  By the end of the book, the case has been solved, Matthew has made a couple of new friends, and he is beginning to take the first steps toward recovery.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A suspenseful mystery, told with understated humor in Matthew’s British voice.  Readers will empathize with Matthew’s seemingly strange behavior, and cheer him on as he starts to uncover the demons that have plagued him for much of his life.

Cons:  I cringed at the scenes where Matthew washed his hands until they cracked and bled.

Into the Lion’s Den (The Devlin Quick Mysteries) by Linda Fairstien

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers 

Summary:  Devlin Quick and her new friend Liza are working on a school project in the map room of the New York City Public Library when Liza sees a man cut a page out of a valuable atlas.  Devlin, whose mom is the NYC police commissioner, immediately goes into action, chasing after the man before snapping a blurry photo of him.  Using this single clue, plus her considerable intelligence, extra-keen sense of hearing, and the help of well-placed family and friends, Devlin and Liza eventually track down the culprit, only to have him lock them underground at the Brooklyn Public Library.   After a heart-pounding escape, the girls, along with their friend and accomplice Booker, are awarded keys to the city and NYC detective badges.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fans of Nancy Drew will appreciate this first entry in a new series about a smart girl and her two sidekicks.  Like Nancy’s lawyer father Carson Drew, Devlin Quick’s police commissioner mother gives her some sleuthing advantages, but ultimately she must depend on her own brains and quick wits.

Cons:  Devlin occasionally comes off as a bit of an annoying know-it-all.

Click Here to Start by Denis Markell

Published by Delacorte Press 

Summary:  During 12-year-old Ted’s final visit with his somewhat mysterious great uncle, Uncle Ted extracts a promise from young Ted to not give up and keep looking for answers.  Shortly afterward, his great uncle dies, and Ted inherits his apartment and all its contents.  He and his friend Caleb are psyched to dig into the mess, but disappointed when Ted’s father invites his boss’s daughter, Isabel, to join them.  Isabel turns out to be a brain, which is helpful as the three are drawn deeper and deeper into a search for lost treasure.  Ted is an expert an online escape-the-room games, and it turns out his great uncle created a hunt perfectly honed to his skills.  The only problem is there’s at least one bad guy racing to find the same treasure, and it’s hard to tell who he is.  With plot twists on practically every page, the three kids finally end up victorious, with a few ends left loose to pave the way for a sequel.  320 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros: Fast-paced and funny, this is sure to engage reluctant readers with its non-stop action and humorous dialogue.

Cons:  Plan on suspending your disbelief by chapter two and keeping it suspended up until the last page.  The solution to this puzzle is way beyond the capabilities of any mortal mind, and there are a few too many coincidences to be believable.  Don’t think too much…just enjoy the ride.

Inspector Flytrap by Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell

Published by Amulet Books 

Summary:  In a literary first, a Venus flytrap with dreams of becoming a detective pairs up with a goat named Nina, who pushes Flytrap around on a skateboard and eats everything in sight.  The opening book in the series has the two of them solving three mysteries.  In the first, an art museum hires the pair to identify a mysterious orange blob on a famous painting (hint: it involves a sneeze on the part of the artist); next, they figure out how a giant stinky shoe got on top of a cookie store; finally, they solve the mystery of a missing rose, which leads to a surprise romance for both Flytrap and Nina.  All stories are generously sprinkled with Bell’s black, white, and green illustrations.  112 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  Quirky author Angleberger (Origami Yoda) and his Newbery honoree wife Cece Bell (El Deafo) team up for a wild, crazy, and hilarious new mystery series.  Readers will be as helpless as a bug in a Venus flytrap to resist the second installment, Inspector Flytrap in the President’s Mane is Mising released the same day as this one.

Cons:  Nina the goat is pretty annoying.

Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantaskey

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 

Summary: Isabel Feeney is a newsgirl in 1920s Chicago. One night, she sells a paper to one of her favorite customers, Miss Giddings, who then walks off with her boyfriend. A few minutes later, shots ring out in an alley. The boyfriend is dead, and Miss Giddings is arrested for murder. Isabel’s sure she’s innocent, and sets out to prove it. She gets the reluctant help of her hero, Maude Collier, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune who covers Murderess’s Row at the Cook County Jail. There are red herrings aplenty—mob connections, an angry ex-husband, a jealous sister—and Isabel finds herself in real danger. As a key witness, she’s called in to testify at Miss Giddings’s trial, and it’s there that she finally realizes (and dramatically reveals) the true murderer’s identity. 352 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros: Historical fiction meets mystery in this tale of gangster-ridden Chicago. Isabel is a funny and feisty heroine, and the 97 short chapters, many with cliffhanger endings, keep the action going.

Cons: I wasn’t exactly shocked to learn the identity of the murderer.

The Mysterious Moonstone (Key Hunters series) by Eric Luper

Published by Scholastic 

Summary:  Cleo and Evan miss their favorite school librarian, Mrs. Hilliard.  After she mysteriously disappeared, the strange Ms. Crowley took over.  One day, Ms. Crowley is acting odder than ever.  The two kids follow her, and discover a secret underground library.  They find a note from Mrs. Hilliard telling them she’s trapped in a book, and they need to solve the mysteries in the other books to free her and avoid getting stuck themselves.  Entering one of the books, they find themselves in 19th century London, where they help a teenage Sherlock Holmes-like detective figure out who stole a diamond from a wealthy family.  Ms. Crowley makes an appearance in this mystery, and after it’s solved, the three of them return to their school.  More mysteries await, however, as they work to free Mrs. Hilliard.  128 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  The mystery was surprisingly good, with a cast of suspicious characters and a bumbling, yet charming detective.   The story-within-the-story structure is a fun way to move the series along.

Cons:  The beginning was a little slow.